Guys – it’s incredibly important that you read, out loud to your kids.
I have six kids from age five to twenty – four girls and two boys and my wife and I developed reading as a family tradition almost by accident. I say “almost” because we both had the desire that our children would read well and enjoy good literature, but didn’t know at the time the HUGE benefits that have been proven out when fathers read to their kids.
Studies have overwhelmingly shown that, especially when the fathers read aloud to children, they have an increased vocabulary, their ability to communicate in public is greatly enhanced, they have a deeper emotional connection to their fathers, and their curiosity about the world at large is magnified.
Now, before we get started, I gotta say that throughout these first 20 years of parenting, I have journeyed with my kids through the jungles of India, the U.S. Great Plains of the 1800’s, the site of a plane crash in the middle of the Pacific in World War II, as well as the Misty Mountains of Middle Earth. How have we done all this? We’ve had a shared experience together through reading books.
You see, simply by cuddling up on a comfy couch together for merely 15-30 minutes each night and reading out loud to my kids, we experience these amazing scenes through the books we read together AND the discussions that the stories evoked.
One of the first objections that many people think is, “We simply don’t have the time for that today and the world is just too busy to squeeze that in.”
The fact that our culture is different today than it was 20 – even 10 years ago – is accurate. We are busier and have more information and media coming at us than ever before. Now, I know that there is no magic solution to instantly create “settle down with dad and a book time”, but I do have this encouragement: If you stop (or at least limit) all the distractions that our culture puts ahead of reading time on your priority list, at least three nights a week, and begin to read to your children, you will experience a marked difference in your emotional closeness and in your kids’ ability to excel as students the longer they go through school.
A lot of times, after dinner or after evening baths, when there would be about 30 minutes before bedtime, we’d gather on the couch and (when the kids were young) we’d read short picture books. What’s interesting is that as your kids sit close to you and hear your voice as you lead them through a story, it simply allows you – the dad – to be the center of attention while you are guiding them through a nice little storybook, fairy tale, illustrated Bible story, etc. With the kids snuggled up and settled down and focused on you and your story, reading to them will foster emotional closeness with them.
Secondly, reading aloud to your children teaches them about the larger world and helps them develop a curiosity about the world around them. For instance, as my kids grew older, we read about and discussed such topics as the 1930’s and 1940’s in America, the Great Depression, World War II, the research and writings of Malcolm Gladwell, the rise of Christianity in the Roman Empire, we discussed amazing fantasy tales like the Chronicles of Narnia and the Lord of the Rings. And we did all this in a way that allowed my children to see a much broader view of life than I could normally offer them, in a safe environment when I was there to answer their questions and talk through tough issues with them.
We’ve also found that reading aloud to your children increases their vocabulary. Inevitably, as you read, you’ll come across words that you don’t understand. When this happens, I recommend two possibilities: either keep reading and the context of the story will bring clarity to the word’s definition; or you can actually stop and look up the explanation of the word or phrase together.
I believe that in importance of reading to your kids, starting as young as possible and not stopping until they leave home. Studies have also revealed that even with teenagers, reading aloud to them fosters emotional closeness, increases their vocabulary and the older they get, the better it aids them in publicly communicating their own thoughts.
Now, keeping in mind that we are talking about a cumulative hours upon hours of reading, don’t be afraid to put down a bad book! Some of us have a tendency to, once we start a book, finish it no matter how bad or boring it gets.
C.S. Lewis said this:
“Those who have greatly cared for any book whatever may possibly come to care someday for good books.”
(But if you don’t care for any book, you ain’t gonna care for good books)
Also, when starting out on reading out loud to your kids, start small and work your way up. Don’t make reading with your children an exercise in Purgatory. Stick with books that will be interesting for your kids. Now, you do want to stay one step ahead of them and challenge them a little, but don’t read to them material that they will struggle to understand. And, in respect to age appropriate books, don’t hesitate to get into character as you read. Constantly change your voice from one character to another – and they don’t need to be perfect, so long as they are interesting!
Time is often a tough hurdle to get over. Sometimes it’s nearly impossible to gather all the kids together for a half-hour. Even if you can only squeeze in ten minutes with some of your children, it’s better than abandoning the practice altogether.
So, where to start? Firstly, remember that as your children grow their tastes in reading and other things they are interested in change and develop. You can start off with reading toddlers and preschoolers illustrated Bible storybooks, cardboard picture books and the like. Some books at this level that worked for us are: Winnie the Pooh, The Little House on the Prairie Series, the Book of Virtues, the Chronicles of Narnia, Peter Pan, or The Hobbit.
As they grow, boys’ and girls’ interests often begin to split off from one another, and that’s perfectly okay. You may find yourself reading for ten minutes from one book for your son and another ten minutes from a different book for your daughter.
And when they enter high school, they might be ready for: The Life and Narative of an American Slave, all the research books by Malcolm Gladwell, Cry the Beloved Country, Unbroken, Boys in the Boat, or Fahrenheit 451 (though you may choose to edit some of the coarse language).
Now remember, as a dad, it’s your responsibility to instill in your kids a Christian worldview. Therefore, all of the books you read to your children do not need to be written by Christian authors, but all of it should be filtered through discussions with you that present the Biblical perspective of the topics and issues you come across.
I promise, at the end of it all – no matter how exhausting or frustrating your days or even seasons of life may be, you will look back on these times of reading aloud to your kids as some of the most bonding and cherished moments of your life.
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